Available on DVD, the documentary Bring on the Night offers a revealing look into the world of top-tier touring. Shot in 1985, the film shows a young Branford Marsalis
When we decided to play bass, we all sort of took a backseat in the “musical station wagon.” Some nights it even feels like we’re facing the other way in the third seat, but at least we are still in the car. Bass is often the forgotten instrument— usually relegated to the back of the stage—and since our parts are considered “simple,” we are often (wrongly) thought of as bottom-rung musicians. This leads to some other issues (here comes that ego again) like when we aren’t out front or getting the attention we feel we deserve. We forget our place in the musical universe … and then the trouble starts.
We all know the “state of bass” is really not that extreme, and that the bass has evolved immensely in the past few decades. The problem only presents itself when the bassist doesn’t remember he’s the bassist—this also applies to any player and his instrument—forgetting his role in his musical situation. In Nashville, this can quickly lead to certain gig-ending death and a wide-open calendar.
Whether you are playing for or with someone else, you need to remember your job on that stage. If you are a hired musician, you are not there to upstage the artist, meaning there probably won’t be a bass solo. (Get over it.) This also means that you can’t be on a trampoline behind Vince Gill, unless Vince decides to put you on one. Consider yourself lucky if you get to move—many artists either put you in one spot or have choreography for you. You wanted to be here, so you need to play by the rules. You were hired to help showcase the artist’s skills, not yours.
As bassists, our job is holding it all together. We must establish a pocket for everyone else to fall into, and this pretty much holds true for every music genre. We are the glue! And the glue won’t hold if you decide to solo over the chorus, or decide that because the girl in front is checking you out, you need to play that 32ndnote run during the ballad. It just doesn’t work. At that point, you are probably trying too hard anyway. So do what you’re there to do (backing your artist), and it will be noticed.
The same holds true in recording sessions. Serve the song, not yourself. You are there to provide your tone, your note choice, and your groove for the session. Are your million-dollar licks clashing with the melody? Well, guess what? It’s you that must change, not the melody. Countless sessions have gone bad over ego clashes when a bassist will forget that he was hired as a musician, not a producer. There are tactful ways of addressing certain issues, but a session player’s role is just that. Again, remember your place and why you are there.
Many players in town have come from band backgrounds, including myself, and there is a needed shift in thinking when you transition from your collaborative band to being a hired gun. You must remember your name is not on the marquee, and that the average ticket holder is not there to see you. There is a harsh, yet very real scene in Sting’s film Bring On the Night, when his then-manager Miles Copeland talks about the role of the band for Sting’s tour. Though the band boasted some of the best young jazz musicians in the world, Copeland lays it out that it’s not the band the people are coming to see—it’s Sting. Frugal reputation aside, he’s correct. The band was created to make Sting sound good.
I may have painted a dark picture here, but I don’t want to scare anyone out of trying to land a top gig. Remember that this is the music business, so there are no absolutes. There are tons of great artists out there who let you have leeway in your gig. Even working for someone like Christina Aguilera (call me, girl!) with set and costume changes is a great gig—just be ready for some things you may not have been expecting. The upside is that with “name” artist credits under your belt, you will get calls for other work. That’s because you’ve proven you can work and play well with others, and that you realize the scope of the gig.
As I have preached in previous columns, two of the most important elements of success are balance and harmony. Let’s call it your musical feng shui. The balance part can be tricky, especially if you are like me and want to rule the world. With a little knowledge and understanding, you can find your place—and more importantly— keep your gig. If you want your place to be out front or in charge, then you’ll just have to create that gig yourself. Until then, remember that it’s about the music, not you.
Steve Cook has been fighting his rockstar frontman urges for decades, holding down the low end for such artists as Steve Cropper, Sister Hazel, and Phil Vassar. Join in his “touring therapy” on Twitter @shinybass.
Looking for more great gear for the guitar player in your life (yourself included!)? Check out this year's Holiday Gear Finds!
D'Addario XPND Pedalboard
DR-05X Stereo Handheld Recorder
Wampler Pedals Ratsbane
Created in collaboration with legendary guitarist George Lynch of Dokken and Lynch Mob fame, the Mr.Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage and an onboard Deep control, which together are designed to enable an amp to have increased sustain while still retaining note definition and dynamics.
LegendaryTones, LLC today announced production availability of its new Mr. Scary Mod, a 100% pure tube module designed to instantly and easily expand the capabilities of many classic amplifiers with additional gain and tone shaping. Created in collaboration with legendary guitarist George Lynch of Dokken and Lynch Mob fame, the Mr.Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage and an onboard Deep control, which together are designed to enable an amp to have increased sustain while still retaining note definition and dynamics.
Originally released as the Lynch Mod in February 2021, the updated Mr. Scary Mod features the same core circuit as the Lynch Mod but is now equipped with a revised tube mix combo per George’s preference as well as a facelift in a newly redesigned electro-galvanized steel enclosure. As with the Lynch Mod, each run will be limited and the first run in Pumpkin Orange with Black hardware is limited to just 150 pieces worldwide.
The Mr. Scary Mod adds an adjustable tube gain stage on top of the cathode follower position, keeping note definition and articulation while further increasing sustain. Each Mr. Scary mod is meticulously built by hand in the USA, one at a time, and tuned using high-grade components. Equipped with a single ECC81 (12AT7) in the first position and ECC83 (12AX7) in the second, the Mr. Scary Mod can clean up beautifully when rolling down your guitar’s volume, and still adds scorching gain when you roll it back up. This is a gain stage that’s been tuned and approved by the ears of the maestro George Lynch himself.
“The Mr. Scary Mod excels with dynamics and is incredibly touch-responsive, allowing me to shift from playing clear, lightly compressed cleans to full-out aggressive sustain and distortion –and control it all simply by varying my guitar’s volume control and picking,” said GeorgeLynch. “In many ways, it’s an old-school approach, but it’s also so much more natural and expressive in addition to being musically fulfilling when you can play both the guitar and amp dynamically together this way.”
The Mr. Scary Mod installs in minutes, is safe and effective to use, and requires no special tools or re-biasing of the amplifier. Simply insert the module into the cathode follower preamp position of compatible amplifiers (includes Marshall 2203/2204/1959/1987 circuits) and
immediately get the benefit of enjoying a hot-rodded amp that delivers all the pure harmonic character that comes with an added pure tube gain stage. The handmade in the USA Mr. Scary Mod is now available to order for $319.
For more information, please visit legendarytones.com.
October Audio has miniaturized their NVMBR Gain pedal to create two mini versions of this beautifully organic-sounding circuit – including an always-on gain device.
The NVMBR Gain is a nonlinear amp that transitions gracefully from clean boost to overdriven tones. Volume increases from just over unity to about 10db before soft-clipping drive appears for another 5db of boost. Its extraordinary ease of use is matched by outstanding versatility: you can use it as a clean boost, push a stubborn amp into overdrive or create a just-breaking-up sound at any amp volume.
October Audio’s new family of mini NVMBR Gain pedals includes a switchable version that allows you to bypass the effect: one option features brand logo pedal graphics, while the other sports a fun “Witch Finger” graphic with a Davies knob as the“fingernail”.
The second version in the new lineup is an always-on device featuring the Witch Finger graphic and Davies knob, with the same NVMBR Gain circuit that lies at the core of the switchable version.
- Knob controls gain and clipping simultaneously
- Stunning silver hammertone finish
- Switchable versions are true-bypass, available with classic or witch finger graphics
- Authentic Davies knobs, including the “fingernail”
- 9V center negative power supply required
- Dimensions: 3.63 x 1.50 x 1.88 in
Witch Finger (always on NVMBR Gain) demo
All October Audio pedals are assembled in Richmond, VA, and available for purchase directly through the online shop. Street price is $109 for NVMBR Gain footswitch versions and $89 for the always-on device.
For more information, please visit octoberaudio.com.